Morocco’s MARRAKECH: A rare, strong earthquake that struck Morocco caused people to rush out of their beds and into the streets, tumbling buildings in historic cities and mountain communities that were not made to withstand such intensity. More than 2,000 people have died, and as rescuers battled to get to hard-hit isolated areas on Saturday, the death toll was anticipated to grow.
The magnitude-6.8 earthquake, the worst to hit the country of North Africa in 120 years, caused people to abandon their houses late on Friday in shock and terror. According to one man, plates and wall hangings started falling, knocking others off their feet. Stone and masonry walls were destroyed by the earthquake, and entire settlements were covered in debris.
Every town along the high and winding switchbacks of the High Atlas felt the same devastation: houses folding in on themselves, moms and fathers wailing, boys and helmeted cops carrying the dead through the streets.
When they lose electricity and mobile connection, remote towns like those in the drought-stricken Ouargane Valley are largely shut off from the rest of the world. By midday, many were outside grieving for their neighbors, taking pictures of the destruction with their cellphones, and exclaiming, “May God save us.”
Mountain guide Hamid Idsalah, 72, claimed that while many people were still alive, there wasn’t much hope for the future. In the short term, when his kitchen was turned to dust, and in the long term, when he and many others lacked the resources to recover, that was true.
“I cannot rebuild my house. I have no idea what I’ll do. He went through the oasis town in the desert, looking out at the red sandstone hills, herds of goats, and a shimmering salt lake. “Still, I’m alive, so I’ll wait,” he muttered. “I’m heartbroken,”
People gathered in the streets of ancient Marrakech, frightened to enter buildings that might still be unstable, as broadcast on official television. The famed Koutoubia Mosque, constructed in the city in the 12th century, sustained damage, though the degree was not immediately apparent. The minaret’s 69-meter (226-foot) height has earned it the moniker “roof of Marrakech.” Videos of damage to some of the well-known red walls that encircle the old city, a UNESCO World Heritage site, were also posted online by Moroccans.
According to Morocco’s Interior Ministry, at least 2,012 people died in the earthquake, largely in Marrakech and five other provinces. The ministry reported that there were at least another 2,059 injuries, 1,404 of which were critical.
Bill McGuire, professor emeritus of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, said: “Where destructive earthquakes are rare, buildings are simply not constructed robustly enough to cope with strong ground shaking, so many collapses, resulting in high casualties.”
According to a military statement, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI instructed the armed forces to deploy specialized search and rescue teams and a surgical field hospital as a sign of the disaster’s enormous scope.
The monarch announced that he would travel to the worst-hit region on Saturday, but the Moroccan government has not yet made a formal request for aid, which is a need before outside rescue teams can arrive.